London Film Festival 2021 – capsule reviews

TITANE

Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer:
Julia Ducournau
Cast:
Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon
Cert:
18
Running time:
108mins
Year:
2021

Julia Ducournau’s Palme D’or winning follow-up to Raw is a film that needs to choose a lane. This J.G. Ballardian tale of one disturbed woman’s flight from justice and into a violent world of murder, car sex, body transformation, car sex, parental grief and car sex has multiple flavours, and would have tasted better had it shelved a few.

The androgynous Agathe Rousselle is diverting as Alexia, whose titanium plate in her head cannot quite fix a brain scrambling that occurred during a childhood car crash. Alexia has a taste for the metallic, be it her lover’s nipple studs or the chrome finish and (presumably) gear stick of her favourite automobile. Several bloody encounters later and she is on the lam, holing up with Vincent Lindon’s grieving, steroidal firefighter.

Ducournau (who also won Best Director at Cannes) oils up and slides in elements of J.G. Ballard’s Crash, David Cronenberg’s gender fluidity and Tsukamoto Shin’ya’s flesh n’ metal fusion Tetsuo movies. While there is the suspicion little new is being added, Titane does score on tactile body horror. As Alexia develops a singular physical condition post-car coitus, depictions of her at war with her body literally get under the skin. An attempt to solve the problem using her weapon of choice (a polished knitting needle) expertly moves from squirm to horror to black comedy. Likely to offend/annoy some audiences, but this is surprisingly mild wild cinema.


BULL

Director: Paul Anderson Walker
Writer:
Paul Anderson Walker
Cast:
Neil Maskell, David Hayman, Lois Brabin-Platt
Cert:
18
Running time:
88mins
Year:
2021

Paul Anderson Walker returns to his London to Brighton roots for a crime story as tough as salted leather. Plotwise, his latest also owes a pint or two to Get Carter and Dead Man’s Shoes. Neil Maskell is on ferocious Kill List form as Bull, a vicious criminal returning to his hometown years after experiencing a terrible wrong. Unsurprisingly, no-one is happy to see him. Including his ex-wife (Brabin-Platt) and her dad and Bull’s old boss Norm (a terrifying Hayman). Bull is there to solve a mystery and cuts a bloody path through to the answer.

As per London to Brighton, a flashback structure reshapes the story as it unfolds. Walker brings a genuine sense of evil to the small-town cul-de-sacs, windswept beaches, and garish funfairs. He is also unafraid to portray his lead character as someone beyond redemption, no matter how harsh the wrong done to him. The basic plot is a well-loved tale from many an action-thriller, but a climactic reveal shifts the film into another genre with which those previous movies would only flirt.


LANGUAGE LESSONS

Director: Natalie Morales
Writer: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass
Cast:
Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass
Cert:
15
Running time:
91mins
Year:
2021

Language Lessons is unlikely to do for lockdown romance what Host did for lockdown horror. Director/co-writer/co-star Natalie Morales’s Zoom-based rom-com-dram is passable enough, but its heavy-handed sentiment will have many viewers’ tolerance levels buffering. Opening as a gentle romcom, a bemused Adam (Duplass) begins his first online Spanish lesson, courtesy of husband Will (Terry). Tutor Cariño (Morales) makes enough of an impression for him to return. But tragedy swiftly strikes, meaning Cariño must become more than a teacher to Adam. Although she is not without problems herself.

Character surprises do lurk within Morales and Duplass’ script. But the biggest lesson taken is that this film never grows tired of tugging heartstrings. Whether audiences will respond to the thick smothering of emotion is less certain.


EARWIG

Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Writer: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Geoff Cox (screenplay), Brian Catling (novel)
Cast:
Paul Hilton, Romane Hemelaers, Romola Garai
Cert:
15
Running time:
114mins
Year:
2021

Albert (Hilton) is a middle-aged, morose man in an unnamed Eastern European city in the mid-20th century. He cares for Mia (Hemelaers), a toothless young girl in his charge. In their large, gloomy house his duties primarily consist of creating dentures from her frozen spittle. One day Albert receives a call saying he must prepare Mia to step out into the world for the first time…

Earwig is not for anyone in a hurry. Moving at a pace never quicker than sedate, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s film favours textures and moods over plot. 25-minutes pass before anyone utters a word, and the film is none too talkative after that. But, for those with patience to stick out the first half, Earwig casts a quietly hypnotic spell. What it all means is up for debate, but Hadzihalilovic demonstrates a gift for conjuring haunting images that linger in the mind. Romola Garai adds name recognition as a barmaid violently drawn into Albert and Mia’s lives.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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